When you get the chance, it's important to tell the people you love just how much they mean to you.
The sobbing girl held the knife away from her body, the blade trembling in her shaking, bloodstained hands. Her encounters that evening with the masked man that had invaded her home and cut down her friends one by one had driven her to the brink of insanity. But through those encounters she found an unwavering will to survive, to take vengeance for those she had lost, to make it through the night no matter what it took.
She heard a rustling from the next room and snapped in that direction, her eyes widening as her grip on the knife tightened. With tenuous courage she shuffled towards the door, taking shallow, ragged breaths with each step. As the tension hook rose, she put one hand on the door...drew the knife back...flung the door open and...!
“Ah! Cody!” the teen shouted, angry and embarrassed at his own fear. He had been so engrossed in the slasher flick that that he hadn’t even noticed his little brother sneak into the room, allowing the boy to scare him with relative ease. “Don’t do that!”
Cody giggled. “Sorry.”
Reed flopped back into the couch and released an exasperated sigh. His little brother took a seat beside him, waving his feet in the air as he focused in on the gory film, a forbidden treat that their parents would normally keep him far away from. Reed regarded him for a moment, in admiration despite himself of the outfit he was wearing. Their mother was a skilled tailor and loved to create elaborate Halloween costumes for her kids, and the one Cody had on was some of her best work. Wrapped in pure white robes with foam wings glued to the back and a tinsel halo perched above his head, the boy looked every bit the angel he had been dressed as. She even took the unprecedented step of spending money on a plastic sword for him so that he could claim he was an archangel after the boy complained that the outfit was too wimpy by itself.
Reed might have even been able to admit that his little brother looked cute in the costume if he weren’t so pissed at Cody for sabotaging his Halloween plans. Even though it was his parents that had left the boy in his care while they went to a party Reed considered his brother just as guilty. [I]Of all the times to finally decide that I’m responsible enough to look after him.[/I] After a minute of watching the film together Reed reached for the remote and paused the DVD.
“This isn’t for little kids. Beat it.”
“I’m not a little kid.” Cody pouted. He picked up Reed’s Swiss Army Knife from the coffee table and looked it over in his hands. “I’m nine.”
Reed snatched the tool from his hands.
“This isn’t for little kids either. Now get lost.”
Cody fumed. “Reed, why do you always treat me like a baby?”
“Because you act like one. Now will you please leave me alone?”
“No way.” The boy crossed his arms. “Besides, it’s getting late. Aren’t we going to go Trick-or-Treating soon?”
“What? No.” Reed restarted the film and turned his attention back to the TV. His little brother’s eyes widened and his mouth hung open.
“But you promised mom and dad that you would take me Trick-or-Treating!” he insisted.
“They made me say that. I didn’t mean it.”
[I]“But you promised!”[/I]
Reed groaned and glared at his distraught brother.
“We’re not going. Tell mom and dad whatever you want. Nothing they can do to me could be worse than having to spend the whole night with you.”
Cody’s expression changed from defiant to heartbroken in an instant. His lip quivered and he looked as though he were mere seconds away from breaking down in tears. [I]Ah, geez.[/I] Reed winced. [I]That might have been too harsh.[/I]
“Cody...” Reed started to apologize, but before he could get another word out the boy turned and ran out of the room, putting an exclamation point on his departure by slamming the front door on his way out of the house.
“Damn it.” Reed muttered. He turned off the TV, threw the remote aside, and laid out on the couch, releasing a long exhale as he put his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. [I]Why do things between us always end up like this?[/I] It wasn’t that long ago that two of them were able to get along. Thinking back, Reed could even remember a time when he was really fond of the little guy, of when he took pride in defending Cody from bullies and in always being there to comfort him after a scraped elbow or banged knee.
Those days seemed to disappear for good a couple of months ago when Reed entered high school. Suddenly, Cody became an incorrigible little puppy, an irritating liability whose only purpose seemed to be to embarrass him and put his burgeoning social life at risk. It’s not as though Reed enjoyed shooting down Cody’s advances, but whenever he felt bad about doing so he was able to rationalize his behavior by reasoning that little kids had no business hanging out with fifteen-year-olds in the first place.
This time, though, he felt he might have gone too far, and after mulling it over for a little while, Reed decided he had better go apologize. He pulled himself off the couch and turned to leave the room, but was stopped in his tracks when he saw Cody standing silently in the doorway.
“Oh! Cody.” Reed scratched the back of his head, searching for the right words. “Listen, um - ”
Reed stopped in the middle of his thought, noticing for the first time the expression on the boy’s face. He didn’t seem sad, or even upset - matter of fact, if his smile had been any wider it might have split his cheeks in half.
“What are you so happy about?” Reed asked.
“We’re going Trick-or-Treating.” The boy said, as though it were obvious.
“Uh, no we’re not.”
“Sure we are. Irdu said so.”
“Ir...du? Who’s that?” Reed put his hands on his hips, upset at the boy for talking to a stranger. “Where is he?”
“Right here.” The boy motioned towards his shoulder, then leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially. “He’s a demon. You can’t see him right now ?cause he doesn’t want you to.”
Reed raised an eyebrow. [I]I would have thought he was too old for an imaginary friend. Oh well, whatever makes him feel better.[/I]
“Well, it’s, uh, nice to meet you, Irdu.” Reed leaned forward and smiled at the air above Cody’s shoulder. “But I’m afraid Cody won’t be able to go Trick-or-Treating with you tonight.”
“Hey, don’t condescend the kid just ?cause you can’t see me.” A sharp, pointed voice responded. “If you don’t think he’s telling the truth, just say so.”
Reed’s eyes widened and his body went stiff as a board. [I]That voice...it sounded as though it came from where Cody said his imaginary friend was. But that’s...[/I]
“It’s okay, Irdu.” Cody said, smiling at his shoulder. “Reed was just being nice.”
“Nice, my ass.” The voice countered. “This guy’s a jerk. No wonder he made you so angry.”
“Cody.” Reed said, his voice cracking. “What’s going on here?”
An instant after the words left his mouth Reed received his answer in a flash of flame, so bright that he was forced to turn away and shield his eyes. When he turned back, Reed was struck with the staggering sight of a small creature perched on Cody’s shoulder, a winged, scarlet-hued beast just larger than a bat. Though it, in passing, resembled a skinny, almost skeletal man, the creature’s clawed hands, obsidian eyes, and prodigious curved horns made it impossible to identify it as anything other than a real live demon. The teen took a slow step backwards, held his hands out, and avoided eye contact with the creature, treating it as though it were a rabid dog and not a minion of hell.
“Cody.” Reed said in as calm a tone he could manage. “Get away from that thing. [I]Right now.[/I]”
“I’m not a [I]thing[/I], jackass.” The creature insisted. “Like your kid brother told you, my name’s Irdu. I’m a demon - an incubus, if you wanna get technical about it. Or is that too much information for your chestnut-sized brain to absorb?”
“Yeah, don’t worry Reed.” Cody said. “I was scared of him at first too, but Irdu’s nice.”
“He just said that my brain was the size of a chestnut.” Reed countered, still glaring at the demon out of the corner of his eye.
“I’m nice to those that I like.” Irdu clarified. “Like Cody here.”
“He said my costume was cool.”
“Your costume.” Reed stared at his brother. “He said that your [I]angel[/I] costume was cool.”
“Sure.” Irdu said. “My boss used to be an angel, y’know.”
Reed scrambled to focus through the thousands of panicked thoughts buzzing through his brain, which was still mainly struggling with the concept that a demon perched on his little brother’s shoulder was speaking to him in the middle of their living room. [I]I’ve got to get him away from Cody somehow. He hasn’t hurt the kid yet but God knows what he’s got planned.[/I]
“Cody here tells me that you weren’t gonna take him Trick-or-Treating.” Irdu said, interrupting Reed’s train of thought. “Now that doesn’t seem like something a kid should have to hear from his big brother, does it?”
Reed narrowed his eyes and took another step back.
“What do you want?” he asked with as much nerve as he could manage. “Why did you come here?”
“Well, heck.” The demon shrugged. “I’m just in a giving mood, that’s all. Halloween is like Christmas for us demons, and it’s the only day of the year we can come to the human world. It just so happened that I wound up in your lovely town and came across your little brother.”
Irdu ruffled the boy’s hair affectionately. Reed bristled but didn’t move a muscle.
“And when he told me that you were denying him of a Halloween tradition, I felt compelled upon my honor as a demon to act.” Irdu explained with a salamander’s smile.
The demon lifted himself off of Cody’s shoulder and floated towards the teenager, his dark, leathery wings flapping slowly to keep him aloft. Reed took a step back and held his hands up in defense, the reality of the situation coming upon him all at once.
“So.” Irdu crossed his arms. “We’re going Trick-or-Treating. Now.”
“You’re not taking Cody anywhere.” Reed vowed, watching the demon closely for an opening to attack.
“Oh, don’t worry.” Irdu grinned. “You’re coming with us. ?Course, the way things are right now, you’d be a real stick in the mud. Guess I’ll have to do something about that.”
Reed trembled but held his ground. [I]He’s got to leave himself open at some point. Just be patient.[/I]
“You’re not gonna do anything bad to him, right Irdu?” Cody piped up.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” The demon replied, keeping his eyes on Reed’s. “All I’m going to do is make the evening a little bit more fun.”
“Please.” Reed said, his voice a dry, husky whisper. “I’ll do anything you want. Just leave me and my brother alone.”
“You don’t have to do anything. Just relax.”
Without another word the demon held his hands out and rose higher into the air, a dark, stagnant glow surrounding his body as he bowed his head and murmured in a guttural, ancient language. [I]Now,[/I] Reed thought as his hands clenched into fists. [I]It’s got to be now![/I] The teen lunged at Irdu, but just as he did so, the demon broke from his trance and pointed at his attacker, stopping Reed cold in the middle of his pounce. Though he struggled mightily to break free of the hold Reed found himself unable to move, his feet planted to the ground as though he were ankle-deep in quicksand.
“What is this?” Reed shouted. “Stop it! Let me go!”
Suddenly the grip around his ankles tightened and Reed was overcome with the distinct sensation that the ground was swallowing him whole. He cried out as his arms shot up and his head flew back, as though he were plummeting into some chasm that had opened up beneath his feet. Reed, for a brief moment, felt himself on the verge of death - until the hold was released and the great pull vanished, as quickly as it had come.
He fell to his hands and knees and took deep, gasping breaths, feeling as though he had survived being struck by a bolt of lightning. It wasn’t until several moments passed that he noticed the sleeves of his shirt seemed way too big on his arms - matter of fact, their cuffs were practically scraping the floor. Still panting, Reed looked up at Irdu, who was staring at him with a self-satisfied grin on his face.
“What did you - ” A few words into his thought Reed stopped himself and clamped a hand over his mouth. [I]That wasn’t my voice. It almost sounded like...like Cody was speaking.[/I] Reed turned to his little brother, whose eyes were glued upon him, gawking at Reed as though he had two heads. [I]What is he staring at? What’s going on here?![/I]
“Isn’t he cute, Cody?” The demon asked, his grin widening. “If you’re not careful he might even get more candy than you do.”
In a daze, Reed pushed himself to his feet to confront the demon, but as he did so his jeans and boxers slipped to the ground and pooled up around his ankles. He let out a small sound of embarrassment and moved on instinct to pull his pants up, but in doing so realized for the first time just how comically large his shirt was on him, the cloth draped loosely around his shoulders and trailing down to his shins as if he were wearing a nightgown. His confusion and fear growing by the moment, Reed looked at Cody for any explanation as to what had happened, only to realize with horror that he had to crane his neck upwards to meet his little brother’s eyes.
“What...” he squeaked, panic setting in. “What is this?!”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, kid, but you were a little too old to go Trick-or-Treating.” Irdu explained. “Woulda made the whole thing kinda awkward. It’s much better this way.”
[I]Too old? No, it couldn’t be...[/I] With trembling hands Reed pulled away the collar of his t-shirt and gazed down at his body, letting out a small choked gasp when he saw what lay underneath. No longer was his form that of a young man on his way to adulthood - instead, what he saw was the weak, scrawny frame of a little boy, every bit of him small and pale and puny and soft.
“Reed...” He looked up at the sound of Cody saying his name, his despair only deepening when he saw the smile creeping across the boy’s face. “That was [I]so cool![/I] You, like, shrank into your clothes, and it happened so fast, but when it was over, you were a little kid! You’re smaller than me now! Hey, Irdu, how old is he?”
“Hm, hard to say.” The demon admitted. “Black magic isn’t an exact science, y’know. Maybe we could get a better idea if we take a closer look at him.”
Irdu pointed at Reed and snapped his fingers. A split-second later the shirt he had been wearing disappeared, leaving Reed completely naked in the middle of his living room. He gasped and clamped his hands over his groin, but he had been bare long enough for both Cody and Irdu to get a full look at his nude little form. Reed felt his entire body blush as the giggles floated across the room, the tittering, mocking laughs of a boy who was reveling in the fate that had befallen his big brother.
“Hee hee.” Cody grinned. “That’s smaller than mine, too.”
If the ground had actually tried to swallow him up at that moment Reed would have made no effort to fight it. Cody took a step closer to his brother, examining him with abject fascination. Reed squirmed and looked away, unable to meet Cody’s eyes.
“Wow...you look like a Kindergartner, Reed!”
“Seems about right.” Irdu mused. “I saw scads of kids his age around town tonight. As soon as we get him into a costume, he’ll blend right in.”
“Mom has a bunch of old ones upstairs.”
“No need.” The demon smiled. “I’ve already got one in mind.”
“Please...” Reed whimpered. “I don’t wanna...”
Ignoring his objections, Irdu pointed at the clothes piled up around Reed’s ankles and muttered something under his breath. A moment later, the garments began to writhe and wriggle on the ground, pooling together into one solid crimson mass. Then, without warning, the mass latched itself onto Reed’s legs, slithering up his skin as though it were a python swallowing its prey. Temporarily unconcerned with his nudity Reed cried out and fought wildly to get the living cloth off of his body, but no amount of shaking or pulling at the sentient material would so much as slow its ascent. In a matter of seconds the mass covered his frame, its final form that of a child’s devil costume, complete with horned hood and a forked tail that curled at the boy’s feet. Reed examined himself slowly, his eyes glazed, his mind nearly overwhelmed by this latest development. Meanwhile, Irdu circled the boy, chuckling to himself as he admired his handiwork.
“It always makes me laugh to see what you humans think the big guy looks like.” He said. “Where do you guys come up with this stuff?”
Reed swallowed and closed his eyes, trying to calm himself down and pull back from the verge of a mental breakdown. [I]You can’t afford to freak out right now,[/I] he told himself. [I]Cody’s still in trouble and you’re the only one that can help him. Nothing else matters.[/I] He repeated that mantra to himself over and over, putting his thoughts into focus and giving himself the determination necessary to carry on.
“Aww, aren’t you just the cutest thing?” Cody laughed as he reached down to give Reed’s cheek a gentle pinch. “You guys wait here, I’m going to run upstairs and get the pails.”
He turned to leave, but before he could do so, Reed reached out and grabbed him by the hand. A curious look on his face, Cody turned back towards his brother, who stared up at him with steely eyes set in a round, blushing face.
“Cody, listen to me.” He said, trying to convey as much authority as his lilting soprano would allow. “I know it seems like Irdu’s being nice, but neither you or I know what it is he really wants. What I do know is that I’m not supposed to be like this. I [I]can’t[/I] be like this. You’ve gotta stop him, right now.”
“Oh, relax.” Irdu interjected, rolling his eyes. “By the end of the night, you’ll fit right in with everybody else in this town.”
Reed turned to the demon, his eyes wide.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Exactly what it sounded like.” The demon grinned. “It seems like, every time I come to the human world, the only ones having any fun are the kids. Not just on Halloween, either. It’s as though the older you humans get, the more miserable you become.
“So, in the true Halloween spirit, I’ve decided to give your town a little gift.” Irdu opened his arms benevolently. “At the stroke of midnight, when my power is at its peak, I’m going to turn everybody in this town into a child.”
Reed went pale. Cody beamed.
“Awesome!” the boy declared. “The whole town?”
“The whole town.”
“That’s so cool!” Cody put a hand on his brother’s head. “See, Reed, there’s nothing to be worried about. If everybody else is little too you won’t have any reason to be embarrassed.”
“Cody, you have to listen to me.” Reed said as he pulled the boy towards him. “This is insane. If everyone’s turned into a kid it’ll be chaos. Mom and dad won’t be able to take care of you. [I]I[/I] won’t be able to take care of you. If Irdu does this I can’t be your big brother any more.”
Cody looked at him, his expression blank.
“It’s not like you were much of one to begin with.”
The words were spoken calmly, without malice, as though it were a simple statement of fact. That more than anything else cut Reed to the core. He released Cody’s arm and hung his head, allowing the boy to fetch the pails with no further resistance.
“Ouch. Harsh.” Irdu said as he watched Cody go. “But then again, you kinda did have it coming.”
Reed grit his teeth and swung at the demon, who deftly dodged the attack with a hearty chuckle.
“Easy there, junior. If you’re not a good little boy I’ll be forced to punish you.”
Reed clenched his fist but stayed his hand.
“Why are you doing this?” He demanded. “Why are you so interested in Cody anyway?”
The demon’s mouth flinched for an instant. He smiled and patted Reed on the head.
“What can I say, I’ve taken a shine to the kid. I’m just trying to show Cody a good time, that’s all.”
Reed narrowed his eyes. [I]There’s something he’s not telling me.[/I] Irdu laughed at his expression.
“Don’t worry. If I were you, I wouldn’t trust me either.” Irdu drew close to the boy and put one extended claw against his throat. Reed swallowed but held his ground. “Just try and enjoy the night, kid. You wouldn’t want to make things difficult for me, would you?”
“Got ?em!” Cody declared as he burst into the room, a pail in each hand. Irdu withdrew his claw and flapped away from Reed, giving him a crooked smile as he did so. Cody handed his brother a pail and Reed begrudgingly accepted it, knowing now for sure that any hint of resistance on his part would only lead to more trouble.
“Ready?” Cody asked, looking between Irdu and his brother. The demon grinned and nodded. Reed looked up and offered him a weak smile. “Then let’s go!”
Reed began to trudge out of the room after his brother when his attention was caught by a glint of metal in the corner of his eye. Sitting on the coffee table, within his reach, was his Swiss Army Knife. He gave a quick glance over to Cody and Irdu to see if they were looking, grabbed the tool and slipped it into his pail, and then followed Cody out the door.
[I]I won’t let him hurt you,[/I] Reed resolved, gripping the bucket’s handle tightly. [I]No matter what.[/I]